Ion shell distributions as free energy source for plasma waves on auroral field lines mapping to plasma sheet boundary layer
Abstract. Ion shell distributions are hollow spherical shells in velocity space that can be formed by many processes and occur in several regions of geospace. They are interesting because they have free energy that can, in principle, be transmitted to ions and electrons. Recently, a technique has been developed to estimate the original free energy available in shell distributions from in-situ data, where some of the energy has already been lost (or consumed). We report a systematic survey of three years of data from the Polar satellite. We present an estimate of the free energy available from ion shell distributions on auroral field lines sampled by the Polar satellite below 6 RE geocentric radius. At these altitudes the type of ion shells that we are especially interested in is most common on auroral field lines close to the polar cap (i.e. field lines mapping to the plasma sheet boundary layer, PSBL). Our analysis shows that ion shell distributions that have lost some of their free energy are commonly found not only in the PSBL, but also on auroral field lines mapping to the boundary plasma sheet (BPS), especially in the evening sector auroral field lines. We suggest that the PSBL ion shell distributions are formed during the so-called Velocity Dispersed Ion Signatures (VDIS) events. Furthermore, we find that the partly consumed shells often occur in association with enhanced wave activity and middle-energy electron anisotropies. The maximum downward ion energy flux associated with a shell distribution is often 10mWm-2 and sometimes exceeds 40mWm-2 when mapped to the ionosphere and thus may be enough to power many auroral processes. Earlier simulation studies have shown that ion shell distributions can excite ion Bernstein waves which, in turn, energise electrons in the parallel direction. It is possible that ion shell distributions are the link between the X-line and the auroral wave activity and electron acceleration in the energy transfer chain for stable auroral arcs.